TikTok announces “Family Pairing” – bust your moves but cap the risk

More-popular-than-ever “youngster” app TikTok has just announced a feature called Family Pairing.

ICYMI, TikTok – which bills itself as TikTok, Make Your Day – is a video sharing service that lets you post and share fun videos up to 60 seconds long.

We discussed TikTok in this week’s podcast, and the best explanation we could come up with is that if you were you mash up Twitter and Houseparty you might get something that was sort of similar but completely different.

The sample videos on the main page of the company’s website give a fairly clear idea of the sort of content that TikTok considers fun and cool – cute pets strutting their stuff, amusing safari park “through the car window” animal incidents, dance move challenges, stay-at-home baking how-tos (and how-not-tos), and more.

As you can imagine, TikTok’s main demographic, to use the jargon term, is young adults and teenagers (you are supposed to be at least 13 to sign up)…

…and that comes with a whole bunch of risks, as any concerned parent will appreciate.

Youngsters love to put each other to the test, and home lockdown due to coronavirus regulations is no barrier to peer pressure, especially when it comes to online challenges.

Singing along to a popular song is one thing; smashing as many pumpkins with your head in a minute as you can while balancing on a ladder (we made that one up – do NOT try this at home!) is quite another.

There’s also the thorny and complicated issues that arise when flirting and sexuality meet creepiness and stalking – a problem that’s compounded online by the difficulty of knowing who’s really who.

So, hats off to TikTok for introducing the new Family Pairing system earlier today.

If you wanted to sound old-fashioned, you might choose to describe the new system as simply “parental controls”, and you might wonder why it took Tik Tok so long to introduce them at all, but we’re happy to call it Family Pairing.

It means that parents will be able to link up their own and their childrens’ accounts, and perhaps even to lock them down ultra-tightly if they want, but the way these new “controls” are pitched is that they’re more about guidance than about regulation.

According to TikTok, if you’re a youngster whose account is linked to that of a parent or guardian, you may end up limited in respect of:

  • Screen time. The idea is not to stop you having fun, but to make sure that you don’t end up doing everything online, especially during lockdown. (As TikTok itself says, why not go offline sometimes, and read a book?)
  • Visible content. You won’t be able to see some “adult” content – and sometimes you’ll be glad of that. Adults can cruel and hurtful as well as lewd, and no one needs that.
  • Direct messages. TikTok is rapidly attracting millions of new users due to lockdown and stay-home rules around the world. As you can imagine, that means the number of creeps signing up will inevitably increase too. If your Family Pair can shield you from even one of these people, you’ll be grateful.

It’s not a cop out to wear a seat belt when you’re in a car – in fact, it’s important to get everyone else to wear one, too, so they don’t smash into you if there’s an accident – and it’s not a sign of weakness to wear a helmet when you’re riding a bicycle.

A little safety goes a very long way – and that applies just as much on the internet as it does IRL.

So if your parents get into the Family Pairing thing on Tik Tok, don’t brush them off – there’s a lot to life beyond 60-second online videos, and it’s important not to lose sight of real life while we’re all living in extraordinary times during lockdown.

Having someone older to watch out for you while you’re online can be reassuring.

And here’s a thing: if there’s a video challenge that your parents think is wholesome enough for you to take part in, they can hardly say no when you tell them it’s wholeseome enough for them, too – and as their Family Pair, you might as well be the one to take the pics or the video and post them online.

Just watch out for musical challenges – your parents may well have grown up on tunes that are way heavier, grungier and edgier than the stuff that goes as “music” today.

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